Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has released an ambitious plan to change many aspects of America’s broken immigration system. His plan, “A Welcoming and Safe America for All,” combines dozens of policy ideas, many of which he promises would happen on “Day 1” if he is inaugurated as America’s next president. Some of these proposed policy changes are very good. Others are not. And the way he proposes to implement these changes is troubling.
Sanders’s proposed changes to the immigration court system are necessary and long overdue. These changes include restoring discretion to immigration judges, making the immigration court system independent, and establishing a right to counsel in immigration court. It’s no secret that the current immigration court system isn’t working for anyone involved. More than 1 million cases are waiting to be heard. Immigration judges are overworked and their authority has been stripped away by political policies and case completion guidelines.
Immigrants wait years for hearing dates. Without a right to counsel, many of them face their hearings alone and have no real chance to present their cases effectively. As Americans, we have a fundamental responsibility to make sure that our court systems reflect our values and allow for full and fair consideration of each case. Sanders’s plan would help do that.
His plan to expand parole authority and deferred action programs (such as DACA and TPS) is also positive. The authority to grant exceptions to the immigration laws for humanitarian reasons already exists. To be sure, Sanders promises to expand it in almost every way possible, including updating DACA to cover “all those who came to the United States under the age of 18” and granting parole to “the families and caregivers of citizens and legal permanent residents and employed workers.”
It’s hard to know how this would work out in practice, and reasonable people can disagree over the scope of his plan. Still, for those who have watched the Trump administration close off one avenue of immigration relief after another, it would be refreshing to see some semblance of humanity restored to the system.
By MARTIN W. LESTER for THE HILL
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